Life in Other States – A Texas Year and A New York Year

It’s clear that meticulous research and care have gone into Tania McCartney‘s and Tina Snerling‘s colourful fun books, A Texas Year and A New York Year.

These well produced picture books cover a year in the life of kids living in Texas and New York.

One of the things I love most about them is their theme of diversity – the way they reflect the lives and cultures of the people living in these states.

A texas yearA Texas Year and A New York Year feature ethnically and culturally diverse characters and diverse experiences.

The lively text and illustrations make these books a fun read for anyone with an interest in finding out about Texas or New York.

A Texas Year and A New York Year are full of information about the lifestyles and aspirations of kids living in these locations.

Readers will enjoy poring over the text and illustrations, taking in the fascinating detail.

They will be taken through a month by month account of what it means to be a kid living in New York or Texas, learning about special occasions and customs.

There’s everything from food, sport and school, to dancing, language, holidays and special occasions.

A New York Year - Front coverA Texas Year and A New York Year present great opportunities for discussions in the classroom or home about cultural diversity.

Each book has a location map with information about the state including its nickname, state flower, song, animals, and popular foods found there.

The content in both books has been produced in consultation with native advisors from the state including teachers and children.

A Texas Year and A New York Year offer young readers a fun and entertaining way to explore their own environment and the world around them.


Little Mouse – A Toddler’s Day Out

UnknownLittle Mouse is a typical toddler. He has a very busy and fun-filled day, but it’s also full of things he’d rather not do.

He’s learning how to do lots of new tasks, but one thing he does competently already is say, “No”.

Little Mouse was so relatable for me as a parent, and I’m sure young readers will also be engaged by the humour and the authenticity of the situations Little Mouse encounters.

There’s getting dressed, skipping through puddles, not wanting to go in the pusher or brush his teeth or eat his broccoli.

Unknown-1The text is simple and age appropriate and the illustrations are adorable. They’re full of humour and warmth and detail for kids to pore over.

Little Mouse is the work of Helsinki-based author and illustrator, Riikka Jantti.

The book is published in hardback and has a fairytale like quality.

Unknown-2It’s a perfect size to fit in a nappy bag or hand bag and I can imagine Little Mouse finding his way to many picnics, appointments and family outings.

Although he can be a testing toddler, Little Mouse is totally charming. I can see his captivating story becoming a classic.

Little Mouse, for readers aged 0 to 4, is published by Scribble, the children’s imprint of Scribe.

Zelda’s Big Adventure – The First Chook in Space

9781925266382What’s not to love about a chook in space?

Zelda’s Big Adventure, written by Marie Alafaci and illustrated by Shane McG, is a charming story of a little chook with big dreams.

Zelda has big plans – she wants to be the first chook in space. She leaves nothing to chance and packs food, fuel and a cosy nesting box. But will she make it without the help of her friends?

One of the things I love about this book is that it introduces the concept to children that you can have big dreams and achieve them no matter what other people say.

Zelda is so determined in her quest that she is not deterred by lack of assistance or encouragement from others. Zelda’s Big Adventure teaches young readers about self-reliance and optimism.

I also really like the fact that Zelda has a plan. She doesn’t just expect things to fall in her lap. She works towards them.

Zelda shows great resilience and determination, and these are what get her there in the end.

She is funny, generous and forgiving and a thoroughly likeable character, and these characteristics are captured so well in Shane McG’s beautiful illustrations.

Zelda’s Big Adventure is an entertaining read that could also inspire discussion with young readers about following your dreams, and not being discouraged. There’s also plenty to engage them with the Shane’s humorous, detailed pictures.

Zelda’s Big Adventure is published by Allen & Unwin for readers aged 2-5.

It’s a book for chook lovers and for anyone who has ever had a dream.

Break Your Silence – Explore the Writer in You Writing Workshop

I’m delighted to be presenting a writing workshop in Trentham on 21st August, as part of the Words in Winter Festival.

Words in Winter logoI’ll be inspiring writers of all ages from 15 to 115.

If you’ve been getting around to getting started, felt intimidated by ‘writers’ or found it all too expensive, then this is a golden opportunity to participate in a safe, easy environment at a super affordable price.

Places are limited, so book yours soon. Book here.

Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 3.13.51 PM

For more about the fabulous Words in Winter festival check out their website.

Hope to see you there 🙂


Why “So Wrong” is So Right

With its short bites of text, humorous adventures, and hilarious graphics, So Wrong Uncensored is so right for readers aged 10-13, particularly reluctant ones.

MW 2011 PS

Michael Wagner

From the diabolically dangerous duo of author, Michael Wagner and artist Wayne Bryant, this book will engage young readers, but don’t expect it to be politically correct.

Former reluctant readers themselves, Michael and Wayne have created the book (and series) they wish had existed when they were kids.

Here Michael chats about how and why he created So Wrong.


How did this series come about and what prompted you to create it?

Over the years, I’ve written lots of little bits and pieces that I couldn’t find a home for. They were ideas for things like two-panel cartoons, satirical ads, parodies of picture books, etc. None of them were substantial enough for a book of their own or would sit easily in a book of short stories, but I liked them and really wanted to do something with them. So they became the spark for So Wrong. It started out as a place to put all these awkward little bits and pieces.

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Wayne Bryant

But once I started assembling them into a book, I got really excited. Not only was I having the most fun I’d ever had as an author (which is an important sign), but I felt like I was creating the exact thing I would have loved as a kid.

Instead of reading books when I was in later primary school, I preferred magazines like Mad and Cracked. So Wrong felt like that sort of publication but in a book form. It had the same hyperactive structure, and abundance of ideas, but short stories instead of comics, and rather than being cynical and worldly, it was more cheeky and absurdist, making it naturally more aimed at children than teens.

The big problem however (which kind of hung over me as I wrote) was how to get it illustrated. It really needed a lot of variety, so it felt like I was going to have to employ several illustrators and a flexible designer to make it work. But then I remembered working on an animated feature film many years ago with an artist called Wayne Bryant. I knew he could vary his style and while discussing the book with him I discovered he was an excellent designer and a fan of Mad and all sorts of other hilarious and beautiful retro comics. So, suddenly, the big illustration problem was solved.

Wot to Luv 01Why did you think it important to feature a narrator with spelling challenges?

The narrator in question, Mitey Mikey, is actually one of the book’s ‘sponsors’. He appears in 3-4 places throughout the book in order to convince you, the reader, to pay for his ‘Lyfe Coach for Kidz’ services. He’s a kid, but he’s a strident, overconfident little go-getter, who believes he’s headed for fame and fortune – except he’s not actually as clever as he thinks, which becomes immediately apparent when you realise he can’t even spell his very first lines: ‘HEY YOO! Wee need to tork.’ So the joke is that he thinks he’s brilliant (and is a little bit in some ways), but we know he’s not as smart as he thinks he is.

But we reckon his misspellings serve more than one purpose – depending on who’s reading the book.

In a funny sort of way, his inability to spell subtly validates the reluctant readers who are also poor spellers. In a quiet sort of way it says to them that being a poor speller is a known, common problem (even for kids with other strengths), and it’s not a life-and-death issue, so work on becoming a better speller, but don’t lose all your self-esteem if you’re not that great at it just yet. It’s not actually the end of the world – in fact it can be a source of a lot of fun.

But also, because it’s tricky to decode Mitey Mikey’s poor spelling, it really reinforces the value of consistent, uniform spelling. If we all spelled phonetically, the way he does, we’d spend all our lives decoding text.

Wot to Luv 02And then there’s the sheer fun of suddenly being able to read his text quite fluently. When that happens toward the end of the book, you feel a little bit like someone who’s just mastered a secret code.

Why are this book and the series important to kids?

We hope these books appeal to all kids, but most importantly to reluctant readers. We think it’s important to keep those kids reading just one more book … then one more series … and for one more year. Just to entrench the habit of reading a little more. And to help them make their own positive associations with books.

What did you hope to achieve when you created So Wrong?

All we wanted to achieve is a book/series that kids love – particularly reluctant readers. And a book that no one’s afraid to admit they like, no matter how ‘cool’ or tough or naughty they feel they have to be.

What will kids gain from picking up these books?

Hopefully, more positivity towards books themselves, a good laugh, and a little validation.

As a reluctant reader, what challenges did you face?

One of the biggest problems with being a reluctant reader (as a child, mind you, I’ve been an avid reader all my adult life) is that you can easily feel as if you’re not that smart. That kicks in especially when the topic turns to books. It’s embarrassing to admit you haven’t read this book or that book or, basically, many books at all.

But it’s more than just embarrassing, it’s downright frustrating. By reading fewer books, you naturally have a smaller and less effective vocabulary than many of the people you know. Despite being an intelligent child (according to my reports – well, some of them), I could barely explain anything if I was under any kind of pressure. I never had the words, while others did. That’s frustrating and bad for your self-esteem.

How does this book/series address these challenges for kids facing these challenges today?

The real competition for reluctant readers is with screen-based forms of entertainment. In order to improve on what they offer a child, you have to be super relevant, visually interesting, and highly validating. That’s what we’ve aimed for with So Wrong. If we’ve achieved it, then those kids won’t think books are quite so boring. And they’ll read one more … and then another … And they’ll start to benefit from reading in all those subtle ways people who love books do, without ever quite realising it.Wot to Luv 03


9780994251756What I like about this book apart from its non-stop entertainment value is that it offers achievable reading goals for kids who are reluctant to pick up a book. They can read a few pages at a time and still complete a story or segment.

As the book itself states, it’s 100% unboring guaranteed.

I think my favourite parts of this book were the highly suspect ‘life advice’ from supposed Life Coach for Kids, Mitey Mike, and the hilarious advertisements for useful products like The Parental Attitude Adjuster.

So Wrong Uncensored is as the name suggests, uncensored, so there are some references to bodily functions and ‘alternative education’ however it’s all clearly done in jest, and designed to tickle the reader’s funny bone.

The narrator’s spelling in some parts is a little suspect too, and these tales are full of naughtiness (including visual treats throughout), but the book is clearly written from the hearts of the creators to entertain the kids who read it.

If you have a reluctant reader in your home or classroom then So Wrong Uncensored could be so right for you.

So Wrong Uncensored is clever, funny and engaging. It’s the first book in the series and is published by Billy Goat Books.

So Wrong is available from great bookshops including:
The Little Bookroom
Tim’s Bookshop
and Michael’s own website,


Is Clutter Wrecking Your Creativity?

Does your study or studio ever get to the stage where the clutter stops you from working?

Are there books and papers piled so high on your desk, you can’t see your computer?

BusyIf this has NEVER happened to you, please share your secrets 🙂

But seriously, it’s not just the physical clutter that stops you from creating.

It can also be the mental clutter … the kind that goes on inside your head and your heart.

Recently, I co-founded KidLitVic2016, a conference in Melbourne in May attended by 160 delegates, 11 publishers and 1 literary agent.

We had talked about running a conference like this for a while because there was nothing of its kind in Melbourne.

Logo_no_lamp_text_sampleI came up with the name, KidLitVic, set up the website and Facebook Page. My partner set up the business name and bank account, and we were off and running.

In the 12 months leading up to the event, my inbox overflowed with conference emails, and my mind was full of tasks, meetings, websites, content development, media campaigns and all the other associated detail that goes with organising a conference.

KidLitVic2016 was an amazing experience. I loved every minute of it. I loved spending time with all the authors and illustrators who came. I loved meeting all the wonderful publishing professionals, and I loved seeing people walk away from the conference feeling like they had gained something and it had encouraged them and helped the with their careers.

But during that time there was little room in my head for much of anything else.

It made me realise just how important it is to make space in your head in order to create.

I don’t know about you, but I find that mental clutter is the hardest kind to get rid of – and it’s what most hinders my creativity.


Here are some things you can do to clear your mental clutter:

  1. Take a break from social media.
  2. Make a list of all your deadlines and things you have to do. That way you don’t have to store all this information in your head.
  3. Set up smart inboxes for your emails, so you can put aside those emails that don’t require your immediate attention. Just do a web search for “how to set up a smart mailbox” and you’ll find heaps of useful sites.
  4. Take a walk – there’s nothing like fresh air and movement to free your mind.
  5. Set aside free time for just being. Allow those creative ideas to come sneaking back.
  6. Go away on a retreat … away from all the things that are cluttering your mind. You don’t have to go far and it doesn’t have to be for long, (a granny flat in the backyard will do) but it does help create room for new ideas and inspiration.

After the conference was over, I was not only inspired by all the fabulous people I had met and the things I had learned, I also had free space in my head to immerse myself in my own work again.

If you have some tips on how you free the clutter from your life in order to create, I’d love to hear them. Please feel free to share them in the contents section of this post.

Happy writing 🙂


Wendy Orr Talks Writing and Dragonfly Song

UnknownToday, we have a very special guest at DeeScribe Writing.

The very talented award-winning author of Nim’s Island, Wendy Orr has dropped in to talk about her fabulous new book, Dragonfly Song.

Wendy is the author of many award-winning books, including Nim’s Island, Nim at Sea, Rescue on Nim’s Island, Raven’s Mountain and Peeling the Onion.

Today I’m reviewing Wendy’s beautiful new book, and she’s sharing some fabulous tips on how she wrote it.


Although it’s set in the Bronze Age, Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr is a story for any time.

It’s a story of optimism in times of adversity, of clinging onto hope when there appears to be none. It’s a tale of resilience and courage. Any reader who has ever felt unloved or outcast will feel inspired by Aissa’s story. Anybody who has ever felt powerless will be empowered by it.

“The firstborn daughter of a priestess is cast out as a baby, and after raiders kill her adopted family, she is abandoned at the gates of the Great Hall, anonymous and mute. Called No-Name, the cursed child, she is raised a slave, and not until she is twelve does she learn her name is Aissa: the dragonfly.

Now every year the Bull King takes a tribute from the island: two thirteen-year-old children to brave the bloody bull dances in his royal court. None have ever returned – but for Aissa it is the only escape.”

Dragonfly SongThere’s so much to love about this book. The fascinating setting, the lyrical writing and the fast-paced page turning action. But it’s Aissa herself, who really draws you into her story. She takes the reader into her heart, so deeply into her world that we feel every stab of pain, every triumph.

I was also drawn to the exploration of destiny in this book – that sometimes there is a path we must follow, even if it’s at first unclear.

Dragonfly Song is a combination of narrative and verse, but the transition is seamless, with the narrative reading like prose poetry.

It has clearly been meticulously researched and the author takes us back through time to the age of flints and spears. To a hierarchical society in which bloodline and position in society dictate survival, a time of superstition and folklore in which children can be cast out to fend for themselves because of a physical or mental impairment that is seen as a curse.

It’s rare that you find a fast-paced adventure that’s so beautifully written that you’re caught up in both the language and the story itself.

I couldn’t put Dragonfly Song down till I’d read the last word.


Wendy has always been fascinated by the Aegean Bronze Age. Doodling on a finger-paint app in 2010, she sketched a dark, curly-haired girl with a twisted mouth, and knew that she had to find this unhappy girl’s story.

Orr Wendy, preferred author photo, credit Roger GouldThe plot and Aissa’s fictitious island formed as Wendy researched and read, but the story was sparked to life by serendipitous, seemingly unrelated events, such as finding a piece of chipped flint on a Danish beach, and taking a wrong turn and ending up at the extraordinary deep blue Source de la Sorgue in France. Most mysteriously, every time that she made a significant decision or discovery about the story, Wendy saw a dragonfly the following day.

Wendy’s beautiful new book is a combination of verse and prose and she’s going to talk about why she wrote it like that, and give us some fabulous tips on how she wrote it.

Why did you write this in a combination of verse and prose?

I often hear my stories in free verse before I start writing, but Dragonfly Song was quite insistent, and continued to be in verse in the early drafts in 2011 or 12. I felt that the story and setting were too complex for verse and kept transposing it back into prose. However, I knew I hadn’t got the right tone, and so put this book aside while I wrote Rescue on Nim’s Island. After starting again in prose, though I was still hearing it in verse, and still wasn’t satisfied with the tone, I woke up one morning thinking, ‘I could write it in a combination of verse and prose.’ I got up the nerve to tell my editor, and when she didn’t have hysterics, I started, and it began to flow.

My plan was that the verse would express more of Aissa’s interior life, and the prose would be more expository, for background, and for any other character’s point of view – and sometimes just to break a section of verse so that it wasn’t too long. I continued to find it easier to write in the free verse, and so when deadlines approached, it tended to have longer verse sections that sometimes had to be rewritten as prose. (Editing the verse, however, is much harder than editing prose, because changing a word changes the rhythm for the whole section…)

Writing in free verse also demanded a completely new way of working for me. After having written everything, even personal letters, on a typewriter and then computer from the time I left school, I had to write this by hand. And instead of writing in complete silence or with a meditation cd, the verse was written to a soundtrack of Sigur Ros. I heard them on the radio once, several years before I was consciously planning this book, and knew they were the soundtrack for it – so when I started writing, I went to iTunes and found them.


Dragonfly Song5 Tips:

  1. How much research to do for historical novels is a ‘how long is a piece of string?’ question. You could spend the rest of your life learning and never get to the writing. Try to get a good feeling for the period before you start, and then hone in on what you need to know once the story is plotted.
  2. Tiny facts and details add verisimilitude to your story and immerse the reader in its life. They can also smother the reader with their weight. Listen to your editor or beta reader when they ask, ‘This is a fascinating fact, but does it really add anything to the story?’ (Hint: the correct answer is No.)
  3. Once you have a reasonable background knowledge of the period or the subject, don’t be afraid to read other fiction, or watch films, set in the era or the region. I tended to weigh up other novelist’s interpretations of the history against my own reading of the theories, but I read a lot of books – novels, travelogues, memoirs – about Crete and the Greek islands. Sometimes they added one fact, such as when figs ripen; more often they just solidified my image of the islands.
  4. The earlier the history – particularly in an era like the early Bronze Age, with no written records apart from tax lists – the more disputed theories there are. Choose the one that makes sense to you and stick with it. Remember that it’s a novel and you’re the creator – the internal logic or integrity is the most important thing.
  5. Similarly, you may need to simplify or condense some events or characters to let the novel flow. If it’s a serious history, you can always add an author’s note at the end to explain. For example, although I believe that every peak, cave and natural feature on Aissa’s island probably had its own goddess or god, I felt that it would have added too much explanation or confusion for something that was not integral to the story, so I’ve condensed them all into one mother goddess. There are no right and wrong answers for this type of question: go with what feels right for the story.

Bonus Tip:

Listen to your heart, and the words in your head, when you write something new. Experimenting with new styles and formats brings a much greater risk of failure – but it is also the way to find your own true style, and write not just the best book you can, but the book that only you can write.


Wendy has been visiting some other fabulous blogs as she tours through cyberspace.

Check them out here: